Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It is Memorial Day weekend here in the US. On this holiday millions of people mourn those who died in military service to the country. Years ago I would visit the military cemetery near my home to salute the fallen veterans in my family. My relatives buried there: My Uncle Sam was an Army Medic. He was on Iwo Jima. He was a magnificent, muscular man. My Uncle Fred was a scout for half tracks. His unit came ashore three days after D-Day and liberated Paris, fought across the same fields in France that his father, my grandfather, fought over in WWI. He was in the Battle of the Bulge, and when his unit liberated a concentration camp they were horrified by what they saw, and he seldom talked about his experiences. My grandfather (my mom’s step-father) joined the Army in his forties and gassed airplanes during WWII. My mother is buried in the military cemetery, and she will share the grave-site with my father when he passes away – 95 and still going.
At the military cemetery, I would linger at the grave of my best friend, a Navy veteran who made the ultimate sacrifice, at age 23. We met on the first day of Second Grade, and were like brothers to the end. I still miss his silly laugh and big heart. He inspired a lot of my writing over the years including a character in my novella Positive Light. Greg joined the Navy because he wanted to be like his Navy Seal cousin Gary. Gary was what people call a man’s man. Sadly, Greg did not make it into the Seals. Working around nuclear weapons, he came down with leukemia and succumbed after a gallant fight. At his wake, I sat with his sister in the back of the funeral home and let her cry on my shoulder as we reminisced about his unique life.
I have spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the continuously unfolding pandemic tragedy. How can we remember the lives of the over 340,000 people who have died in the world from covid-19 with over 97,000 in the US? Each life is unique. We must not simply make their deaths into a number. In spite of the rhetoric used by so many politicians and news media, this pandemic is not a war. The awful death toll is not due to horrific armed conflict. One by one, bed by bed, the angel of death has snatched away the equivalence of the population of Iceland. And the horrible scourge continues. America has suffered the equivalent of THIRTY-THREE September 11 attacks in three months, or one 9/11 every three days.
I grew up with veterans. My ancestors served before the US was a country. I had relatives at: Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Battle of the Meuss-Argonne, Iwo Jima, Saipan, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq. I have so many memories of my uncles and dad sitting around drinking beer and smoking and recalling the war in hushed tones after my mom and aunts had gone inside. The last time I saw my fantastic Uncle Curt he and my Dad talked about their experiences with me. When my Dad got up to use the toilet, my uncle whispered, “That man went through hell. Things we can’t describe.” That is what we must face this Memorial Day – the Indescribable. There are no veterans we can turn to for advice on how to endure. And those deaths, each and every one of them ended the lives of someone’s love, someone’s husband, wife, grandmother, grandfather, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, best friend, lover… Those whispers about the one’s we have lost will echo throughout the years ahead. In Memorium of the passage of so many souls let’s silently meditate about the loss to all humanity and strive to make the world a little better each day in memory of those we have lost. And keep them in our hearts.
The body is only a garment. How many times you have changed your clothing in this life, yet because of this, you would not say that you have changed. Similarly, when you give up this bodily dress at death you do not change. You are just the same, an immortal soul, a child of God. – Paramahansa Yogananda